Mark Fregia, convicted Monday of murdering his two children when he set his former girlfriend on fire in 2003, was a “gentle giant” and a good mentor, according to his cousin who testified today in the penalty phase of the trial.
Fregia's mother, Susan Armstrong, described her son as a “loving, gentle” father to the two children, 6-year-old Devlin Weaver and 2-year-old Daelin Fregia, who died trapped in Fregia's burning car on the Appian Way exit ramp off of Interstate Highway 80 in Pinole on Dec. 18, 2003.
“It was just like he had a family finally, something he had always wanted,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong was 19 and still living at home when she gave birth to Fregia.
“I was terrified,” she said. “I wasn't sure I was going to keep it so I didn't have any clothes for him.”
She said she was severely depressed at the time “to the point of not being able to function. I just slept all the time and never got dressed.”
Throughout most of his life, Fregia was raised by his maternal grandparents. He shared a bedroom with his aunt, Kimberly Pittman, who was only two years older than him.
Pittman said their father regularly beat their mother and from a very young age she felt like she had to protect Fregia and her mother.
Another sister, Patricia Mitchell, said their home was “like a house on fire, everybody enraged, no one knowing what's going on and that's the way it was every day.”
Pittman said that if her father came home and found a dirty spoon or plate in the kitchen sink he would beat their mother.
She said she witnessed her father choking her mother and banging her head against the headboard of their bed.
“Every day when he came home from work it was always something,” Pittman said.
Both Pittman and Mitchell said that as far as they knew Fregia was never physically abused growing up.
Weaver had a daughter, Devlin, from a previous relationship, but Fregia took her on as his own, Weaver previously testified.
The couple fell in love and Weaver became pregnant with Daelin a couple of months later.
Fregia's aunts and mother said he remained a loving and devoted father to both children even after his relationship with Weaver began to fall apart.
The couple had broken up and Fregia had just found out that Weaver had a new boyfriend on Dec. 18, 2003 when he convinced her to bring the two children Christmas shopping at Toys R' Us in Vallejo.
Instead of taking them to the toy store, Fregia began driving in the opposite direction and got onto to Interstate Highway 80. As they approached the Appian Way exit in Pinole, Fregia allegedly asked Devlin to pass him his soda from under the seat, according to Weaver.
The soda bottle was filled with gasoline. Fregia began pouring the gasoline on Weaver as he continued driving down the freeway. He then lit a cigarette lighter and Weaver went up in flames.
Weaver said she yanked the steering wheel to crash the car and both adults got out and tried to put out the flames on their clothing.
Meanwhile, the car, which was also on fire, rolled down the embankment with the two children trapped inside.
Weaver said she tried to rescue her children, but got to the car too late. Fregia, who also claimed during his trial testimony that he tried to save the children, then carjacked a driver who stopped to help and fled the scene. He was arrested the next day in San Francisco.
Weaver suffered burns to 85 percent of her body and spent nine months in the hospital, but survived.
Fregia was convicted Monday of two counts of first-degree murder, and one count each of attempted voluntary manslaughter, kidnapping, arson with the use of an accelerant causing great bodily injury, aggravated mayhem and carjacking. Jurors also found true a series of special circumstances, including committing multiple murders and killing someone in the course of a kidnapping, convictions that make him eligible for the death penalty.
The defense is scheduled to finish their case in the penalty phase of the trial Wednesday morning in Contra Costa County Superior Court in Martinez.